by Kristen Keckler
Her daughter had stepped out for some air, probably to get one of those five-dollar lattes always velcroed to her hand. Margot had been close to her father, and they’d been dealing with his prized record collection when her eyes started to tear.
Sarah was relieved to be alone with her stuff. They’d been packing and sorting all morning for her move. She hoped she hadn’t hurt her daughter’s feelings when she snapped at her, standing over a crate of jazz, blues, and Motown—some were valuable, but she’d long since disturbed her husband’s meticulous categories to play them. When was the last time? The turntable was in his old office, now converted to storage. She entered the cramped space, removing books precariously stacked, opening the dusty cover to put on Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”—their wedding song. When needle touched groove, there was no sound. She panicked, found in the intestines of cords where it had come unplugged, and the room burst with piano notes, Nat’s smoky voice. She cheered up and turned up the dial—these tasks were better done to music. Her husband had been proud of his cabinet-sized speakers.
She danced her way back through the minefield that had become her life, humming, and found a box labeled “china.” She dug in to make sure—unwrapped a salad plate, scalloped-rimmed, blooming with pink roses. Coronet Limoges, designed by George Borgfeldt. Her daughter, Ms. Williams-Sonoma, couldn’t understand that she was holding not only a work of art, but a piece of history—Sarah recalled those grand egg hunts with her cousins, could almost smell the Easter ham baking in her grandmother’s oven.
A cat leapt into her lap with a needy mew, and she scratched his head, gently shoed him off.
When Sarah had suggested that maybe she should have an estate sale, that there was much that would be useful to others, like the crockpot she used to simmer her famous chili, now stuffed with washcloths—with her job at the library and no one to cook for, she didn’t bother anymore—her daughter had rolled her eyes. Margot was a lawyer and it had made her a bit ruthless. Sarah spied the Eureka vacuum cleaner in the corner, sagging like an old drunk—she’d been meaning to take it to the repairman.
She rummaged through clothing—her son-in-law had already brought to the front lawn stuff she wouldn’t keep—and she felt exposed. There was a cardigan sweater: Ann Klein, a peach sorbet color, good condition, just missing a few buttons. She could replace them with those dainty gold seashell-shaped ones! A project for her new place.
Underneath it, summer clothes—she’d need those soon enough—so she sealed the box with packing tape, nudged it to the side. There was a linen derby hat, silk sash, purchased from the Women’s League for the beach vacation she and her husband had planned. Its flowers were a little crushed, but they’d spring back, so she put it on her head, sultry tilt.
She went through a bulging trash bag just to make sure—they were busy people, she realized, quick to toss—and fished out a nail polish, poppy red, congealed. She shook it vigorously, and though her nails were brittle, her fingers blackened with newsprint, she polished one hand, shook it dry.
She’d pulled the thick curtains closed—she didn’t want to see what was on the lawn, easier to stay focused on what was left—and the room was dim and stale. Her son-in-law had found a tricycle in the garage; it sat in the middle of the floor.
She recalled the sting of her daughter’s words: “What in God’s name are you doing with a tricycle? It’s not like it belonged to any of us kids.” True—she’d found it at a garage sale, was saving it for her first grandbaby—her son had married a woman who’d appreciate it.
“It’s an antique,” she tried to explain—a red Flyer. She’d found one similar on eBay for three hundred dollars—she’d gotten hers for ten.
She felt that familiar crush in her chest, like her lungs filling with liquid lead, and perched her petite frame on the tricycle to think.
When her daughter burst through the door, wearing a face mask and industrial gloves, she’d see her sixty-year-old mother in a tattered straw hat, atop a rusty tricycle, one crimson hand to her cheek, the blare of a skipping record nearly drowning out the kittens; she’d see the urine stained album covers, and in the kitchen, a non-functional sink filled with junk, the counters stained with a decade’s tar of food, cats nested on top of the fridge—so many cats—garbage towered to the ceiling. Standing in front of the door, papered with condemnation notices, her daughter would announce, briskly, as if to a courtroom: “The SPCA is coming for the cats in an hour.”
Then her daughter’s eyes, the only part visible under the mask, would flash with what Sarah understood as compassion: “You can keep the tricycle in my basement, but that’s it, your one thing.” Her blue eyes, her father’s eyes, would switch to pleading. “Now let’s get back to work, okay?”
Kristen Keckler’s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Ecotone, The Iowa Review, Vestal Review, South Dakota Review, The Southeast Review, Prick of the Spindle, Santa Clara Review, The Boiler, and other journals. She currently teaches English and creative writing at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York.